Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Earlier this month, Ben Whitehouse began a conversation about his retirement from St. Francis.  Last week he made the decision to retire, effective the end of this month.  In Ben’s words: “After a prayerful and thoughtful examination of my present situation, I find that I am no longer able to sustain the high level of focus and commitment required as Director of Parish Operations.  Considering my age and current medical situation, I think this decision is in the best interest of the parish and myself.”

I am grateful for all that Ben has done to serve me personally and to build up the Body of Christ here at St. Francis.  He has been a committed advisor to me and to the leadership councils of the parish, and will be greatly missed.

This is Ben’s third time to retire.  His first retirement was after a career in the Army and his second was from AT&T.  Ben began his service to St. Francis as our Facilities Manager in 2002 and in 2005 became Director of Operations overseeing communications, technology, stewardship, facilities, finances and our Growing In Faith Together campus expansion including Elizabeth Hall, Assisi Community Center, St. Mary of the Angels Chapel and Siena Lifelong Learning Center.  Ben has been a loyal servant of our parish, helping us to be faithful to our mission to proclaim the reign of God.  In his faith journey, he epitomizes what it means to grow in holiness, offer hope and extend hospitality.

Ben looks forward to being an active volunteer in the parish and helping with a smooth transition.  Marc Kielty will serve as interim Director of Operations.  April 1, Julio De La Rosa, assisted by Joe Kurzweil and Toni Hammes, will provide oversight of our finances in the short term, working closely with Pat Kowite, Coordinator of Finance and Administration, and Charlie Abbott, Financial Administrator.  In the weeks ahead I will be meeting with Marc, Julio and other advisors to put together a long-term plan.

Please join me in expressing appreciation to Ben and wishing him a happy retirement as he joins the ranks of being an active volunteer here at St. Francis.

This weekend we welcome Fr. Mel Jurisch, OFM, the visitor general of Holy Name Province. For more information about Fr. Mel and the purpose of his visit, please refer to last week’s bulletin.

A year ago this month we witnessed the historic election   of Pope Francis.  In light of this I share with you a reflection from Fr. Joe Nangle, OFM, a member of our provincial  administration who some years ago led a parish mission here at St. Francis.

In the peace of Christ,

Fr. Mark

Pope Francis and the Latin American Church What a difference a year makes!

Pope Francis and the Latin American Church
What a difference a year makes!

Could any of us have imagined what would happen when a relatively unknown Jesuit, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was elected pope by the College of Cardinals, called himself Francis and asked a blessing from the crowd in St. Peter’s Square?  From that moment to the present, on virtually a daily basis, Pope Bergoglio has surprised, delighted, challenged, frightened, inspired — you choose the verb — not only the Roman Catholic world but people across the globe. All of us know the details of this “new springtime” in the papacy of the Catholic Church. No need to review here that well-documented record. So let me take a slightly different approach to this “Francis event.”

Argentine Life and the Latin American Church
Some weeks ago, friends of mine returned from a vacation to Argentina. One of their comments related to this former Cardinal-Archbishop of Buenos Aires. As they observed Argentine life, they told me it was clear that Pope Bergoglio was a genuine representative of that unique culture. They mentioned in particular the human warmth they encountered, the outgoing Argentine spirit, and the “abrazos,” or love for life, so evident in Argentine music, dance and fiesta.

While I agree with this and believe that one key to the worldwide fascination with Pope Francis is his Argentine heritage, I believe there is a deeper reality in his background that makes him what one person has described as “the Pope of Hope.” That is the history of the Latin American Institutional Catholic Church over the past half-century, one that almost exactly parallels Jorge Mario’s own life journey.  If any Catholic community caught and interiorized the true spirit of the Second Vatican Council, it was and continues to be the Church of Latin America. Barely two and a half years after the close of that historic Council, episcopal representatives from every country in Central and South America and the Caribbean, together with theologians, religious and laity, gathered in Medellin, Colombia, to incorporate insights of the Council into their own ecclesial and civic realities. In a series of pastoral documents, the Medellin Conference set the Church in Latin America on a new course, one almost diametrically different from its historic role theretofore. Those documents laid out concepts and challenges such as “the preferential option for the poor” and the reality of “institutionalized sin” in the political, economic and social structures of Latin America. They called on every area of Church life — Episcopal, lay, religious and clergy — to stand with the poor and make pastoral decisions based on how they affect the marginalized, oppressed and rejected majorities there. As someone who worked as a parish priest in Lima, Peru, during those years, I can testify to the enormous changes both of heart and ministerial objectives that these challenging statements brought about in all of us.

Ministering to the People of God
More to our present subject, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, ordained a Jesuit priest in 1969 and appointed Provincial of his Jesuit province in 1973, had to have been affected by this application of the Second Vatican Council in his Latin American Church. Follow-up episcopal conferences in Puebla, Mexico, 12 years after Medellin and the 1992 gathering in Santo Domingo, the same year Bergoglio was consecrated as bishop, surely had an impact on his life and ministry.

I say this because the process of these meetings was totally distinct from former methods of “doing pastoral theology” in the Catholic Church; the process permeated the way Church life in that part of the world was conducted. Rather than the traditional “top down” method of applying hard and fast Church teaching to each human situation, the Latin Americans started from the experience of people, particularly the poor, and asked what God’s Word had to say about those specific situations “bottom up”. One can see in Francis’s approach to his role as pope this way of judging and acting – one that is based on the lives of women and men.

These conferences of the Latin American and Caribbean Church, as noted, have paralleled the “career” of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. After becoming Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998 and being named a cardinal in 2001 and president of the Argentine Bishops’ Conference in 2005, he came to international attention in 2007 as the Latin American and Caribbean Church gathered once again, this time at the great Brazilian shrine of the Blessed Mother, Aparecida. Here, Cardinal Bergoglio played a central role in the clear call to the people of God as a missionary people. He served as chairman of the committee charged with drafting the final document of Aparecida and represented the assembly of conference participants in presenting it to Pope Benedict XVI. Little wonder that less than six years later Bergoglio became the Argentine pope.

One paragraph from the Aparecida Document sums up for me the entirely fresh approach that Pope Bergoglio brings to the papacy. I believe it also sums up his amazing and immediate impact on the Catholic Church and on the world:

“A Catholic Church reduced to mere baggage, to a collection of rules and prohibitions, to fragmented devotional practices, to selective and partial adherence to the truths of the faith, to occasional participation in some sacraments, to the repetition of    doctrinal principles, to bland or nervous moralizing, that does not convert the life of the baptized would not withstand the trials of time. Our greatest danger is the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the Church in which everything apparently continues normally, but in reality the faith is being consumed and falling into meanness.”

(Document of Aparecida #12) — This first appeared in HNP Today (used with permission of author).